The first female potter to join the Abuja Pottery in the Department of Commerce and industry, under the then Colonial Nigerian Government; Ladi kwali earned herself a national honor of being the first Nigerian woman to appear on a Nigerian currency; Twenty Naira note.
Pottery was an indigenous female tradition in the Gwari region of Northern Nigeria where Ladi Kwali was born. She learned to make pottery as a young child taught by her aunt, using the traditional method of coiling and grew to be one of the historically celebrated icons in Nigeria today, and landing a spot of the Nigeria’s twenty naira note.
Ladi Kwali OON, MBE learnt to make large pots such as water jars, cooking pots, and so on from coils of clay, beaten from the inside with a flat wooden paddle and she often decorated them with stylised figurative patterns, including animals like snakes, birds, and fish. These earthenware vessels and decorative techniques have been dated back to neolithic period; Following the region’s traditional method, they were fired in a bonfire of dry vegetation.
From her cultural tradition, where females were primarily responsible for pottery, Ladi Kwali’s ceramics became “art objects”. Ladi Kwali’s pots were featured in international exhibitions of Abuja pottery, which was organised by Micheal Cardew (the then Pottery Officer of the Institution), in the year 1958, 1959, and 1962.
In 1961, Kwali gave demonstrations at the Royal College, Farnham, and Wenford Bridge in Great Britain, and also at France and Germany over this period. Her work was shown to great acclaim in London at the Berkeley Galleries; And,the Abuja Pottery was renamed the Ladi Kwali Pottery in the early 1980s.
Ladi lectured at universities abroad and was awarded a doctorate, even when she could not read nor write. Her pots were noted for their beauty of form and decoration, and she is recognised regionally as a gifted and eminent potter. Did you notice her beautiful pots on the twenty naira note?
Aside from the Honorary doctoral degree she also received from the prestigeous Ahmado Bello University, Zaria; she received many other recognition awards such as the “Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE)”, as well as the national honour of the Officer of the ‘Order of the Niger’; many other awards that are uncountable.
Ladi Kwali really did well for herself in the Pottery Industry and has paved way for so many other Nigerian who have developed the industry over the years.